Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day 250.

Yesterday evening, I occupied Oakland.

Well, okay. Not exactly. More like took the BART downtown with my friend Angel, who was more than prepared for everything from rain to hunger, carrying two umbrellas and a paper bag stuffed with fried catfish and red velvet cake. I was dressed in what Angel dubbed riot grrl gear, but what I saw as practical for a rainy day - 15 year old Doc Martens, knee socks, cut off Dickies, and a vest for warmth. Angel wore one of his signature bowler hats, and some other assortment of fur and fun and fabulosity that I can't remember all the details of at the moment.

We showed up in solidarity, in self-interest, and in curiosity. I wondered how things would work, who was "in charge," and whether people would actually be camping out like in so many other cities. As soon as we arrived, I climbed up onto a planter thingie, staking out a vantage point from which I could observe most of the crowd. I sat, waiting, listening, greeting old friends and meeting new ones. A brown queer held a smartphone up to me, asking whether "Occupy Wall Street" lacked a racial analysis. Of course, I had a lot to say. Just as I felt I was about to sum up my point in a concise and smart way, the stoned, pretty girl wearing a keffiyeh next to me jumped in, and the camera/smartphone swerved away . . .

I hung around, and heard some people say some things, and couldn't hear much of what some others said. It started to rain a little harder. The "general assembly" started, and there was a big sign by the stage that renamed Frank Ogawa Plaza, "Oscar Grant Plaza" with a reminder: On Ohlone Land. I heard one speaker say that this occupation did not cooperate with the police and any individual, group, or organization who intended to cooperate with the police was not welcome. I felt that this was extremely divisive. While I do not trust the police or have any intention of cooperating with them in the context of an occupation, a protest, or otherwise (unless all other alternatives have been exhausted), I felt that this statement unequivocally excluded a number of people, something this movement can not afford to do.

More people spoke. I tuned in and out, chatting with my friends. Then, something happened.

I turned around to look behind me, and I saw a man with a friend who was clearly his lookout standing behind him, trying to discreetly unzip the backpack of someone standing just in front of him. Without taking any time to think about it, I said, "HEY. Hey!"

He noticed me, and began to engage with me. He said, "This is Oakland, and in Oakland we mind our business. We mind our own business." People began to disengage from what was happening. The person wearing the backpack moved away. One of my friends stepped away to make a phone call. My other friend just looked at me, like, "What are you doing?" Even this man's friend slipped away.

I'm remembering now, that he also said to me, this man with a foiled plan, that in Oakland people mind their own business or sometimes they wind up getting shot in the face. I looked at him, looked at the girl whose backpack he was so interested in. I said, "OK. Well, I've lived in Oakland for a little while, and you are a member of my community, and she is a member of my community, and I don't believe that any of us need to harm each other to get our needs met." As everyone else tuned out, we got into a discussion about harm. He made it clear that this was the first time he had thought of harm as something other than physical harm. We introduced ourselves. His name was Anthony.

All of a sudden, my friend Malcolm showed up, saying, "I just got some great pictures of you!"

"Of me and Anthony? Anthony, this is my friend, Malcolm. Malcolm, Anthony."

"Yes, of you and the back of Anthony's head." By now I was introducing Anthony to my other friends, including Tracie, who had returned from making her phone call.

Malcolm showed us the pictures. I had my bossy face on, big time. Anthony apparently liked the shots, because he asked Malcolm to take another picture of us. He stood next to me, put his arm around me, and smiled big. We were basically true down homies for life at this point. People around us started engaging in conversation again, tentatively. Anthony, an older black man with worn clothes who was missing his front teeth, seemed to make some people around us uncomfortable. I didn't care. We were friends now. But he seemed to catch on, started to say his goodbyes. We side hugged again, then looked each other in the eye just before he left.

"Do what you need to, Anthony. Nothing but love."

"Same. Same."

The speakers kept speaking. I spoke with some more friends. As the drizzle got perceptibly heavier, more and more white anarchist types pitched tents all around the big tree in the middle of the plaza. It felt like time to leave.

So I did, I left. But I'll be back. Because I believe we can all get our needs met, without having to harm one another. I don't know how we'll get there, or if we will, in my lifetime. But I know it's possible, and I'll be back.

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